Whitehall's open standards champions face 'real battle' to win over sceptics

By Danny Palmer
12 Nov 2012 View Comments
Cloud computing use is a major government IT strategy

There's going to be a battle in overcoming resistance to the government's Open Standards Principles for IT, according to an advisor to the Cabinet Office.

Launched at the start of November, the standards are designed to make government IT cheaper, better connected and more open when delivering services across Whitehall.

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But according to Mark Thompson, strategy director for service innovator Methods and ICT futures adviser to the Cabinet Office, it's just the start of what could be a long, tough process.

"The real battle is overcoming all the resistance and all the attempts to smear it politically, to put it in a political box. It's just a fact of life that we are seeing this happen out there in the world," he told Computing.

"Historically, this country has always been an innovator, we're not so good at putting it into practice, and we're very good at having ideas."

He compared some politicians' attitudes to new technology to a recent episode of BBC political satire The Thick of It.

"How can we be one of the first truly digital organisations? You hear politicians talk about a digital society, like in The Thick of It, the first episode of this series with the apps, they don't get it!" he said.

Nonetheless, Thompson believes the Open Standards Principles represent an important first step to benefiting not just government, but the UK as a whole.

"It's fantastic, the mountain's up there and we've had a few skirmishes, but this is an important one, we've planted another flag a little further up the mountain," he said, suggesting that it'll help people understand how IT can benefit businesses.

"But the mountain is about taking that argument out there into society, helping people understand what de-verticalisation means for this country, what they need and don't need to know about technology.

"A lot of the techie parts of technology will vanish, it'll sublimate as people just consume it, but they've got to understand enough about it and what that means for their businesses and organisations, you can be charity sector, public sector, private sector, it doesn't matter," he said.

Fundamentally, Thompson believes the principles can aid the UK in becoming a major player in the digital world.

"What I'm talking about is truly how it can become a digitally literate country. We could be world leaders in that sense," he said.

"It would give this country a colossal advantage and it would give not just big companies that need to come into the 21st century a boost, but it would also open up a level playing field for smaller businesses around the country."

He added that the measures can encourage innovation in ICT across government.

"It's about creating a platform of government demand around open standards that innovators, small innovators preferably, will innovate around," he said.

Thompson advised the government on ICT strategy and is credited as one of the architects of the open standards policy by Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude.

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